First reactions to Lightroom CC/Lightroom 6 (Executive summary: pretty good)

I have been working with the new Lightroom CC/Lightroom 6 release for the last few days doing some work involving my new image galleries, as well as test-driving some of the new features such as in-program HDR and Panorama support.

Overall I’m happy with the release. I’ve run into some minor bugs that affect my workflow but I’m guessing they won’t be noticeable to most people. The three big changes to this release I care about are

  1. The GPU support for better performance
  2. In-program HDR support (HDR merge to DNG)
  3. In-program Panorama stitching, also to DNG.

In my early testing my overall performance seems a bit faster but I’m not seeing a huge improvement. I still need to do more testing to get a better feel for this. Reports I’ve been reading from other photographers indicates this improvement can vary a lot based on your overall system performance, which GPU you have on your computer, and how big and how many pixels your monitor(s) have. The GPU seems to be most effective with the newer, high-density monitors and little to no improvement on smaller monitors, so be aware how much this will affect you will depend on your computer setup.

The improvements in the develop module feel incremental. The auto button seems to be a bit better. I think they may have removed a bit of yellow out of the Canon RAW processor (but that’s on very limited sample — but I’ve always felt that Canon landscape images come out a bit yellow and I even built an import preset at one point to compensate). I haven’t exercised it too heavily, but I found no problems, no significant changes and the results seemed more or less equivalent to Lightroom 5.

My Lightroom Bugs

I’ve run into one clear bug in Lightroom. I don’t believe most people are going to notice this under most circumstances, but I wanted to document it in case it helps someone else. This is on a Mac running Yosemite for what it’s worth

I use smart catalogs heavily in my workflow, and many of those smart catalogs are selecting images based on keywords I’m tagging onto images — in fact, almost all of my organization is done by creating sets of keywords and then creating sets of collections based on those keywords.

In LR5, this was all fine. In LR6/CC, I’m finding the recalculation of these smart catalogs is slower, and if you have a lot of smart catalogs visible in the sidebar at once, it can really sludge out the system, much  worse than LR5. It seems (but I don’t know for sure) that in LR5 this info was cached in the catalog, and in LR6/CC, it’s reaching out to the images ot get it when needed — and most of my image files are stored on a NAS and not on a local disk, so that refresh is slowed by network access.

That’s not a big deal to me, actually — I normally keep everything in sub-folders and keep them closed if I’m not using them so it doesn’t impact me most of the time.

The bug, however, does: I’m finding that these refresh threads will, over time, start to hang, and once  one of them hangs, other threads down in the bowels of Lightroom start to block behind those hung threads. When one of these threads hang, these smart collection refreshes slow way down, but so do many other operations that involve metadata, such as trying to edit a keyword or a smart collection; suddenly those dialogs won’t show up for 30 seconds.

The workaround is easy: re-start Lightroom. A minor annoyance but definitely an annoyance. Also the kind of bug I’m not surprised snuck through testing and one I’d expect Adobe to fix quickly.

The only reason I noticed it was I happened to upgrade to Lightroom CC while finishing up that gallery project, which involved creating about 250 keywords, creating 250 smart collections that reference those keywords, assigning those keywords across about 8000 images (7500 on the NAS), and then organizing everything into logical sub-folders, then assigning all of those smart catalogs into the publish module to the organized images all end up exported out for me to import into those 250 galleries on my new web site.

It also looks like if you have smart catalogs that have multiple rules looking at multiple pieces of meta-data, those can slow down massively, especially if it’s accessing images over on the NAS. Simplifying the selection rules to only select against one item sped them up significantly. (Please, adobe, enhance smart collections so I can put quotes around keywords with spaces, because otherwise trying to make selections sanely between “Brant Goose” and “Canada Goose” is a PITA. That’s one reason I build custom sets of keywords that all look like ngg_brant_goose and www_canada_goose)

So, if you’re using lots of smart collections, be careful. You might trip on this. If you’re not a workflow nerd in Lightroom, you probably won’t. And believe it or not, restarting Lightroom will fix it if you do.

Stitching Panoramas in Lightroom CC/6

I tried a couple of quick panorama stitches using the new capability. One of them is a panorama that makes stitching programs crazy and they usually fail at it — the only way I can successfully stitch it in photoshop is doing it in pieces and then stitching the pieces. And in fact, Lightroom failed at stitching it, which I won’t ding it for because nothing else has succeeded yet, either.

The second one I tried worked fine. The ability to process the image after stitching as a DNG is awesome and gives me a lot more capability than the old way of doing basic processing on everything, stitching, and then bringing the TIFF back into Lightroom where I have more limited processing capabilities.

Overall, based on these limited experiments, Panorama stitching and post-processing feels about twice as fast as the old way, and I’m really liking the results. I need to do more tests before I fall completely in love, but this feels like a real winner for me, and the results I’m seeing impress me a lot.

This looks awesome.

Processing HDR in Lightroom CC/6

The other thing I’ve tested is the HDR capability. One of my most popular classic images is an HDR image:

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I went and pulled the source files for this and stuffed them into the Lightroom CC HDR processor. Compared to most other processors (like Nik HDR Efex Pro) it has very few options, and it takes your source files and spits out the HDR as a DNG, not a TIFF.

That alone makes me really want to like this tool, because it will massively simplify my workflows if I like it, and speed my HDR processing a lot.

Here’s what came out of the processor:

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California

Taking that, I did some basic processing aimed to make the image look close to my previous processing of this image, and after a few minutes, this is what I came up with.

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California
Nice, but not a home run. The rock is a bit dark, the clouds are a bit boring. But there are some nice positives here, the one I notice that I really like is the lack of that processing halo in the boundary between the ground and the air — and realize in the image at the top I put a lot of time into it in photoshop to remove/minimize that damned thing. here, it’s just gone.

So I slept on it, took a fresh look at the image and tried again. Here is the image after I hit the auto button.

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California


And here is how that looks after I adjust the color balance (rather massively):

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California

The rock’s in much better condition and I can work with that. The rest looks washed out, but we can fix that in the processing.

Here’s my second take after about 30 minutes of processing — this is 100% Lightroom, no round trip to photoshop or any other tool:

Morro Bay Rock sits on the harbor during sunset, Morro Bay, California

I think that’s pretty good. It’s not a final image — this still needs work, but I can say that what the Lightroom HDR creates is more than acceptable to me. The blown-out area around the setting sun is much larger, but in my original final image, I did a lot of work to pull fix that. The sky and the water has less texture but to some degree I can bring that out (but I’m also less interested in having images with the texture accentuated quite that much). The rock’s texture and detail looks almost perfect, if the color’s a bit off — and it’s a significant improvement from the original, which I now feel is a bit over-done and grungy. The original in many ways now feels like I kicked the clarity lever all the way over to eleven and I typically don’t do that now.

The details of the processing of this image will make an interesting before and after once I get that series relaunched. It’s a moderately complicated post-processing, but in all honesty, it’s easier to do with Lightroom CC than it was with Lightroom 5, and that makes this new release a win for me.

So overall my early reaction to the built-in HDR is very positive. If you’re someone who is using HDR to build strongly saturated colors or who is building images with accentuated texture or in a grunge style, you may not like how Lightroom is building the merged HDR — but for those of us who are more interested in images that don’t look strongly processed, I think it’s a big winner and it’s going to be quite popular.

My bottom line

So overall, I think the new Lightroom is a nice upgrade. Do you need to upgrade? I’d say yes — sooner or later. I don’t think there are huge, basic improvements that make upgrading right away crucial; the processing engine is a minor improvement over the major updates done in Lightroom 5. If the GPU performance upgrades sound interesting, pull down a demo and test to see whether it makes a big difference for you (on a test version of your catalog, of course)

If you are an HDR or Panorama photographer, it’s definitely worth a try.

But for photographers who are happy with Lightroom 5 who aren’t HDR or Panorama photographers, I think you can take your time and wait for the first release bugs to get shaken out. Update when it makes sense and don’t be in a hurry.

And if you’re still using Lightroom 4 or an older release, you really ought to upgrade to get access to the new processing image that showed up with Lightroom 5. It’s significantly better and will make your processing better and easier than you can with LR 4 or before — saving you time and giving you better images.

So a thumbs-up from me for this new release. It’s not a ground-breaker for basic processing, but the added features are going to make life a lot easier for a lot of us.